Legal argument threatened trial collapse
The Michaela McAreavey murder trial jury were unaware the trial could have potentially collapsed six weeks into hearing evidence.
The threat surfaced in a dramatic episode of legal argument in the absence of the nine jurors, when a defence lawyer lodged a motion to have them dismissed after claiming their minds had been poisoned by unfair interventions by the judge.
Sanjeev Teeluckdharry was referring to a series of questions Justice Prithviraj Fecknah posed his client Avinash Treebhoowoon during his cross examination by the prosecution.
These, he alleged, may have “unfairly influenced and poisoned the jury’s right thinking”.
“It may appear to the reasonable objective observer that the court has embarked on cross examination of accused number one [Mr Treebhoowoon] in such a way as to convey the impression that his lordship may have descended into the arena and has had his vision clouded by the dust of conflict between the parties,” he claimed.
Mr Teeluckdharry’s motion suggested two courses of actions: that all judicial interventions he raised concern on be struck from the record, or the nuclear option - that the jury be dismissed outright.
The judge sat impassively as the submission was being outlined, but chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan reacted furiously.
“It’s the first time we are hearing of this motion this morning, we did not get any advance notice of this motion,” he said. “The motion constitutes a direct attack on the impartiality of your lordship.”
He noted that all 30 prosecution witnesses had been subject to cross examination and during that exercise the judge had also intervened. “What is sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose,” he said.
The day before Mr Teeluckdharry had asked for time to review transcripts of proceedings so he could prepare to re-examine his client on the stand.
“My learned friend in chambers yesterday at no point in time gave usimpression that he was going to challenge your lordship,” said Mr Manrakhan.
“On the contrary he told us that he was undertaking to finish his case today and it was in that respect that we all agreed we would give him some time to consider the proceedings so he could re-examine his client.
“This leads me my lord to conclude that my learned friend for the defence of accused number one is of utter bad faith and is using a delaying tactic. This motion should be set aside pure and simple.”
Rama Valayden, representing accused number two Sandip Moneea, stood to make a brief comment on developments.
“There are big consequences one way or the other,” he warned. “We are on very slippery ground.”
Mr Teeluckdharry had pointed out specific instances during the first day of cross examination and said he needed further time to examine the second day’s transcripts before completing his motion.
A shocked court adjourned after the judge granted the lawyer time to complete the exercise; the thought of a potential collapse at the forefront of many minds.
A day that should have seen Mr Treebhoowoon’s defence case rest was instead one of waiting and wondering. The jury was oblivious to it all.
Almost four hours later and after a long meeting between the lawyers and Justice Fecknah in his chambers the court finally reconvened.
To the relief of many, it appeared a compromise had been fashioned. The judge said before proceedings went further he would like to make some remarks.
He said he was well aware of the legal principles governing the adversarial trial system and that a judge should be an independent arbitrator as “matters are thrashed out between counsel”. But he said there were exceptions when a judge was permitted to intervene.